Spain: Asturias

Jito looking downMay, 2017

KmM = Kilometer Marker

Asturias has a lot of steep hills and valleys, which leads to some very steep climbs. And some very beautiful climbs, especially in the Picos de Europa National Park which hosts two of the most spectacular climbs in Spain. Cycle Fiesta has a list of the 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs in Spain and they say that 6 of the 12 best climbs are in Asturias. I’ve noted the list position of the climbs described below if they are in the top 100. For example, the beautiful Lagos de Covadonga climb is #1.

One of the things you notice here is how green everything is. Well, things are green because it rains a lot. We had some gorgeous days, some days where we couldn’t ride, and some days where we grabbed a few non-rainy hours to get out and do a shorter ride.

Pola de Lena

Pola de Lena editThis was our main base for cycling in Asturias. It is a very industrial looking town, with none of the charm of the white villages in Andalucía. Instead it is filled with high-rise apartment buildings. Having said that, the central downtown area with its cafes and cider bars does grow on you a bit.

Signs to Climbs

However, Pola de Lena is a central hub for a lot of good rides. There’s a sign in the northern end of town which points to and gives distances to the start of these rides. There’s also a bicycle store in town, right next to the Dia supermarket.

Pola de Lena has a tourist office which has limited information about the bike rides. They have a small plastic sheet showing rides but the writing on it is very small, it’s all in Spanish, and strangely for a cycling hub, it limits itself to the immediate local area. For example, it doesn’t include the most famous climb in the area, the Angliru. Nor does it include the Ermita de Alba. If I was trying to make my town a cycling center I’d include as much as I could.

So, on to the climbs themselves.

Angliru (#2)

Angliru 23 signThe Angliru is a remarkable climb. It’s spectacular, the scenery is beautiful, and it has some brutally steep sections. It’s a far better and more enjoyable climb than Italy’s Mortirolo. The Mortirolo is steep but climbs through trees and thus has no views. The Angliru is harder and is completely open, which gives you views of the surrounding countryside and also views of the road you still have to climb.

One of the good things about this climb is that there are signs by the road telling how steep the next section is. On the steeper sections the signs tell you the minimum gradient and the maximum gradient.

The standard way of doing the Angliru is from La Vega, which makes it 12.6 km to the top with 1,265 meters (4,150′) of climbing. I rode it from Pola de Lena, which gave me a round trip of 53.4 km with 2,224 meters (7,297′) of climbing.

From the northern end of Pola de Lena, follow the AS-242 out of town then turn left under the big bridge following the AS-231 signed for Riosa. This is the El Corbal climb, which is short (6.5 km) but tough (some 12-13% in the last two kilometers). The other side is longer and less steep. In just under 14 km you reach La Vega. Turn left in town on the RI-2 signed to Grandiella. There’s also a sign for Cima L’Angliru.

The next section of road is wonderfully smooth, and as you ride up you’ll be looking up at the hillside on the left, wondering where the route goes. Then you see the road high, high above and if you are like me you’ll be thinking “Holy cow, that’s a long way up.”

At KmM 3 you turn right on the RI-5 to Porcio (also a sign for the Angliru). This is the last time you leave the main road so there are no more decisions from now on, except whether to ride or walk.

The gradient varies in this first section and about 5 km from La Vega it gets so easy that it seems that you are going downhill. Just after this section the road narrows and gets much twistier.

Angliru Steep SectionWhen you reach the switchback with 2.5 km to go, you see the road rearing skywards on the left. It looks terrifying, and you are faced with a sign saying that the gradient will be between 14.7 and 19.9%. Don’t be deceived. You start this section and seen see another sign telling you the gradient is really between 16.2 and 23.5%. Believe me, it does feel steep. (As I was riding back down this section there were two cyclists walking up pushing their bikes and carrying their shoes.)

Me climbing Angliru
Eventually, after a few short switchbacks you top out. Now there’s some gentle downhill before you reach a big parking lot at the end of the road. After a well-earned hero photograph, ride back down and back over El Corbal to Pola de Lena.

La Cubilla (#4)

La CubillaAn incredible climb, long, and never too steep. It’s known as the Asturian Galibier for the feel of the remote upper section. The first half is nothing special but eventually you see the amazing upper section with the road slashing across the mountain, then you work your way up to that road, creeping up on it from behind.

We rode from Pola de Lena which adds about 6 km each way, but the traditional start is from Campumanes (the new signs spell it with a U while the older signs have an O. Some people apparently don’t like the new spelling because we saw many signs where someone had painted the U into an O.)

From Campumanes the climb is about 28 km with 1,316 meters (4,318′) of climbing. If you don’t feel like riding that far, you can drive the first half of the ride and you’ll still get to do the wonderful, memorable upper part.

The road surface is mostly good although there are quite a few areas where the road is breaking up a bit. You especially notice them on the way down. But it’s pretty incredible that the road exists at all because it’s hard to imagine that the cost of building the upper section has ever been justified. Traffic is very light so you can make full use of the whole road.

In the center of Campumanes take the LN-8 signed to Sotiello and Puerto de la Cubilla. Just after KmM 14 you have a wonderful view of the upper road cutting across the hillside, and you wonder how you will get up there. Just before KmM 19 you follow the road around to the left. This is the only decision point on the ride.

Upper SwitchbacksYou now approach the upper road sneakily from behind, switchbacking up to gain height then contouring around a beautiful big green bowl. This is when you start to compare the ride to the Col du Galibier in France. Finally you turn the corner at KmM 24 and start riding the big slash that previously dominated the view. This ends with more switchbacks in a bucolic setting, and then finally you are at the top. Strangely there’s no sign to tell you that you’ve just finished the wonderful La Cubilla climb.

Enjoy the peaceful feeling then ride back down, noticing the poor road surface in places, and wondering why you bothered riding the first section from Campumanes. If you want to enjoy just the best part of the ride, drive to Los Pantones at km 10, or Rospaso at km 15, depending on how far you want to ride.

Gamoniteiro (#12)

Gamoniteiro - T1Another staggeringly beautiful Asturian climb in its upper part. The whole climb is 14.8 km with 1,425 meters (4,675′) of climbing, although the actual Gamoniteiro is only about 6.4 km, but what a 6.4 km! It feels like a piece of heaven.

The first section is most of the La Cobertoria climb. This is a steep and sustained climb, steep enough that there are road signs telling you about sections of 11%, 12%, 12%, 12% and 12%. I found this part harder than the actual Gamoniteiro climb, perhaps because I expected it to be easier.

Start at the south end of Pola de Lena where the AS-230 goes under the railroad bridge. From here it’s 8.4 km to the start of the Gamoniteiro climb. At km 4.5 you get your first view of the road above as it slashes up to the left then at about km 5.4 the road starts getting more interesting as it snakes its way up and left. At about km 5.7 you can look up ahead and slightly left and see where the Gamoniteiro road will be taking you.

The road flattens out at km 8.4, with lovely views of the mountains in the distance. Another easy kilometer takes you to the top of La Cobertoria. Instead, turn right following the sign for alto de Gamoniteiro.

You are now on a beautiful, quiet, one lane road, winding your way up through magical countryside. There’s very little traffic but when there is you sometimes have the problem of getting past each other. There is also the slight problem of uphill movement because although the climb doesn’t feel overly sustained, there are definitely some steep sections, including some 15%, especially near the top.

Gamoniteiro - T3There are also two very strange sections of very rough concrete which you have to power over. They make a strong contrast to the otherwise lovely smooth road surface and you wonder why they exist.

The road winds its way up through limestone meadows, sometimes steep, sometimes much easier. At about km 11.5 you reach the first section of very rough concrete, fortunately only about 150 meters.

Gamoniteiro - A1
At km 13.8 you round a corner and the road rears up, with the summit structures right in front of you. But you approach the summit from around to the left, and just before the summit you are faced with a second rough concrete section, this one only about 50 meters.

After a few moments of solitude you now have a lovely downhill to the AS-230, then a screaming downhill on a perfect road surface back to Pola de Lena.

Picos de Europa

Two of the best climbs in Asturias are in the Picos de Europa National Park, so we drove there one day to do both of them.

Lagos de Covadonga (#1)

Tanya at Lago EnolFor the first 5 km of this ride I was wondering what all the fuss was about. The ride was steep but surrounded with trees and there were no views. What was the big deal? We could have been in Hawaii or Oregon.

Then the valley opened out and ahead of us was a long steep road with a 15% sign. Sure enough, the gradient was pretty much 13-15% all the way up that section, then just when it seemed it would ease off, the road turned right and got steep again. From then on the ride had twists and turns, steep uphills, downhills, and always glorious views.

Cycle Fiesta says “this is one of the most visually stunning climbs you will ever ride….If you only ever get the chance to do one climb in Spain – make sure that it is the Lagos de Covadonga.” Having now done the ride, I don’t disagree. It truly is spectacular, unique, beautiful, wonderful.

The only downside is the amount of traffic. Apparently it is really bad on weekends and on holidays but we did it on a regular Tuesday and the traffic was still bad. Cycle Fiesta says the road is closed to cars (but not buses) in August, so maybe that’s the time to do this ride.

Anyway, back to basics. Drive up to Covadonga. There are several parking areas on the way up to it. We parked in a huge parking area about 0.7 km before the roundabout that directs you to either the Sanctuario de Covadonga or the Lagos. At the roundabout a sign shows you that it’s 12 km to Los Lagos.

Lagos 15 percentFrom the roundabout, start by riding steeply up through trees, until after about 5 km the road opens out and you will soon be faced with the long 13-15% section. After this there are a few more turns of 13-14% then there is a nice downhill before another long climb.

You finally descend to the first lake, Lago Enol, then continue up the much rougher road ahead to the second lake, Lago Ercina.

Back at the roundabout after a lovely descent, I had about 24 km with 1,050 meters (3,445′) of climbing.

Jito de Escarandi (#7)

Jito looking downAn incredible and beautiful climb in spectacular surroundings. There is some brutally steep climbing on it, and also a surprising and very pretty little village that you climb through. Traffic is very light.

The actual climb starts in Poncebos and is about 14.5 km with 1,090 meters (3,576′) of climbing. However, the 6 km from Las Arenas to Poncebos are stunning as the road travels through a steep, narrow gorge with spectacular cliffs and I would recommend riding from Las Arenas.

Jito roadIn Poncebos turn left and cross the bridge and park in the parking lot of the Funicular de Bulnes (if you didn’t ride from Las Arenas). Ride up the switchback and continue up the valley. Just after 3 km you climb a double switchback then the gradient increases to 13-14% for a short way. As you climb up the valley the views become increasingly spectacular, and you see the road cutting along the side of the valley high above the river below.

After about 10 km you turn left and start a series of short but incredibly steep (13-17% switchbacks up into the cute village of Sotres. You’d like to think you are done but you know there are still about 4.5 km to go.

Jito - sculptureNow the gradient really increases and the next section has parts that are 20% or higher. Fortunately this section is only about 2 km and it finally tops out and you see a very modernistic statue of a cyclist on the right. It commemorates the finish of the 15th stage of the 2015 Vuelta a España (won by Joaquim Rodríguez).

From here there are another 2 km to go before the top, but compared to what you’ve just done it seems almost flat. Unfortunately the road surface change to a much rougher chip and seal. I didn’t bother riding this last part.

Entrago / San Martin

We drove from Pola de Lena and stayed in Entrago for 3 nights, hoping to do several of the rides in the area. Unfortunately we didn’t have good weather so we did very little apart from driving up the various climbs to see what they would have been like.

The most famous ride out here is La Farrapona, which we drove up. The last 6 km look fantastic but the first 12 km just look okay. If we had known what it was like before, we probably wouldn’t have come out to Entrago.

Puerto de San Lorenzo

Pto de San Lorenzo - East

When we rode we were in the clouds

This was the one ride we did. Much of the ride was in the clouds but at least it wasn’t raining. It can be climbed from either side, so I decided to do an over-and-back, climbing both sides. From San Martin to La Riera and back gives you 42.2 km with 1,760 meters (5,774’) of climbing. Tanya did the east side from San Martin.

From the roundabout in San Martin, it’s 11.1 km to the top. The first half of the climb is generally not too steep, but the second half has several 12-15% sections.

Head down the west side, with some beautiful sweeping turns. Just after the 21 KmM you reach the bridge and T-junction in La Riera. Turn round here and climb back up. This is the better side – it’s more difficult and more dramatic, with better views. In the 10 km to the top there are plenty of 12-16% sections.

Ermita de Alba

Cofidis Finish

The finish of the climb

A short climb with some very steep sections, fortunately interspersed with easier riding, including the occasional downhill. You’ll be faced with several sections of over 20%, including a finishing section that apparently hits 30%.

My Garmin didn’t register much of this because when the gradient gets too steep, my Garmin stops showing gradient. It’s either because I ride too slowly for it to compute the gradient, or because it has a Panic mode that shuts off the gradient display to avoid terrifying me.

I rode it the day we left Spain so got up early to beat the weather. However, it was cloudy as I started, but fortunately I broke through the clouds about half way up, so the top half was glorious.

The climb is very short, about 6.6 km from the turnoff, with 750 meters (2,461’) of climbing. I parked just east of La Fabrica on the A-229 where there is a very large parking lot – it’s about 200 meters east of KmM 8.

From here, ride west for 330 meters to the turnoff signed to capilla de Alba (chapel of Alba). All the signs call it chapel, but the climb name is hermitage.

Start climbing and at km 2 turn left following the sign to the chapel. You’ll have a couple of short downhills at km 4 and 5.3 but there are also brutally steep uphills. The steepest is near the top, just before the gate and cattle guard. Climb up the short hill after the cattle guard and along the flats for 100 meters to the Cofidis finish line.

GuardianesThe one thing you need to be careful of on this climb is the monks, or whoever lives at the hermitage/chapel. They seem to believe they are the Guardians of Paradise and who knows what that means.

Links and Other Clicks

Other Cycling in Spain

Other Cycling Pages

More about the Angliru on Cycle Fiesta and Bike Asturias

More about Lagos de Covadonga on Cycle Fiesta and Bike Asturias

More about Jito de Escarandi on Cycle Fiesta

More about La Cubilla on Cycle Fiesta and Bike Asturias

More about Gamoniteiro on Cycle Fiesta and Bike Asturias

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